Several days ago, as a part of our extended look at the cast of characters who contribute to the World Congress Of Families (WCF), we started to examine Janice Shaw Crouse, executive director at Concerned Women for America, board member of the Howard Center and frequent speaker and collaborator for WCF events. We looked at her extreme anti-woman views, as evidenced by her own writings and speeches, and talked about how she is the religious right’s favorite kind of woman — the kind that carries water for the patriarchy and espouses policies which ultimately lead to the subjugation of women. As I remarked then, “Crouse, like [Phyllis] Schlafly, is a woman who is highly paid to tell women to get pregnant and head to the kitchen barefoot, essentially.”
To understand her views and mindset more deeply — to start to grasp what woman could possibly want to share stages with some of the most patriarchal misogynistic figures on the planet — I’m going to take us all on a ride through Crouse’s recent book, Marriage Matters: Perspectives On The Private And Public Importance of Marriage. The book is divided into four sections, with an intro at the beginning, and today we’re going to set the stage, just as Crouse does in her introduction.
When you read people’s books, you get a much better sense of who they are, outside their public rhetoric and thirty second sound bites. As Wayne has remarked to me, “well, they have more space to fill. That’s why you find the gems there.”
Having read this book, what I want readers to understand about Janice Shaw Crouse is this:
She means well. Or…
She thinks she means well. Or…
She wants us to think she means well.
I honestly am not sure which one it is. Crouse speaks with a frankness in this book — one that I don’t often see from religious right folks — about the mindblowing passion of hot marital sex — seriously — in a way that would make Peter LaBarbera and Matt Barber squirm and look for the exits. That’s refreshing. She actually seems to be serious when she expresses her belief that, above all, strong, loving, committed marriages are one of the greatest things the human race can be a part of.
But not if you’re gay. You see, people who hold Judeo-Christian Supremacist worldviews have a giant mental block when it comes to anything that goes against the grain of that worldview. You can show them all the science in the world that says that the children of gay and lesbian couples fare just as well (and sometimes better) than those of straight couples, and they will stick their fingers in their ears, stick their tongues out, and pay for a study that says something different. You can show them wonderful, loving, committed for life gay and lesbian couples whose marriages serve the very same loving, fulfilling, protecting, nurturing needs as straight marriages, and they will stick their fingers in their ears, stick their tongues out, and fill their “pro-family” blogs with pictures of leather sex festivals. Hell, you and your loving same-sex husband or wife, who have been together for forty years, can buy the house next to theirs, live there, and exhibit on a daily basis the fruits of your marriage and…you know where I’m going. Fingers in ears, tongues out, and probably a few blown raspberries.
If it doesn’t fit into their worldview, it doesn’t exist.
This is why when gay and lesbian couples make the case for marriage equality, religious right activists reply that to open up the institution to them would be to “redefine” or “devalue” the institution. As Janice writes when explaining why her book is necessary:
…[A]t the same time that whole segments of society are dismissing marriage as unnecessary, other segments are campaigning to expand the definition of marriage. While determined special interest advocacy groups are trying to redefine marriage in ways that will make it that much less relevant…
Social science research has shown clearly that opening the institution of marriage to gay and lesbian couples does nothing more than strengthen those couples’ bonds and protect their children. Religious right activists still have never been able to proffer a sensible explanation as to how gay marriages affect straight marriages, and when they try in court, judges end up laughing at them.
But if it doesn’t fit into their worldview, it doesn’t exist. Therefore it must hurt straight marriages.
Social science research has convinced the majority of them that marriage matters; demographic data makes the case that marriage matters. Common sense, accumulated wisdom, and shared experience agree: Marriage has far more impact on adults than most people acknowledge. Researchers indicate that married people have better health, longer and more productive lives, greater general happiness and better mental health than nonmarried individuals. Further, they also agree that marriage performs a critical function for society. Nothing harms children quite the way that not having married parents does. [Author Caitlin] Flanagan summarizes, “On every single significant outcome related to short-term well-being and long-term success, children from intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households.”
Great. Then since social science also consistently shows that kids raised by gay and lesbian couples fare, on average, no worse or better than kids of straight couples, does it not follow that we should encourage marriage equality, and fight for strong marriages, regardless of the genders of the two partners?
But if it doesn’t fit into their worldview, it doesn’t exist. So gay parents must be terrible, like it says in the Mark Regnerus study we paid for, which didn’t even examine children of committed same-sex couples, but fingers in ears, tongues out, *phbhbhbhbbht*.
In spite of the overwhelming evidence that marriage matters for individuals as well as society, the overwhelming message for young people today is that marriage can wait; your twenties are for establishing your career, having fun, traveling, finding yourself and sowing your “wild oats,” not for setting down “prematurely” into marriage and establishing a family. As a result, the median age for first marriages in the United States has gone up to around age twenty-six for women and twenty-eight for men — that is the highest age since the Census Bureau began keeping track of such information.
Is this a bad thing?
The religious right would rather young couples get married early, which is how it used to be. But, strangely enough, we’re learning that waiting longer is actually better, on average, and leads to more successful marriages! Perhaps it’s not that society is saying that marriage is unimportant, but that it’s better to take some time before jumping in with both feet. That is, unless you want a divorce. In 2003, according to the National Center For Health Statistics, fully 60% of marriages between couples under 25 ended in divorce. Let’s get a bit deeper into some statistics, shall we? First of all, Crouse’s book is bemoaning the fact that somehow marriage is on the rocks, but, um, that’s not what the data says:
It is now clear that the divorce rate in first marriages probably peaked at about 40 percent for first marriages around 1980 and has been declining since to about 30 percent in the early 2000s. This is a dramatic difference. Rather than viewing marriage as a 50-50 shot in the dark it can be viewed as having a 70 percent likelihood of succeeding.
Oh dear. The divorce rate is actually going down. So what is Chicken Little Crouse going on about then? Let’s go back to he scholarly article we just quoted from:
The key is that the research shows that starting in the 1980s education, specifically a college degree for women, began to create a substantial divergence in marital outcomes, with the divorce rate for college-educated women dropping to about 20 percent, half the rate for non-college educated women. Even this is more complex, since the non-college educated women marry younger and are poorer than their college grad peers. These two factors, age at marriage and income level, have strong relationships to divorce rates; the older the partners and the higher the income, the more likely the couple stays married. Obviously, getting a college degree is reflected in both these factors.
Thus, we reach an even more dramatic conclusion: That for college educated women who marry after the age of 25 and have established an independent source of income, the divorce rate is only 20 percent!
The writer goes on to note that the inverse is also true. When marriage happens younger, and in the absence of economic privilege, divorce rates are far higher. Okay, so we have an age issue, and we have an economic issue. The writer points out that the divorce rate is lowest in Massachusetts, which has the highest number of college graduates.
Here’s another fact about marriage and divorce:
If you live in a red state, you’re 27 percent more likely to get divorced than if you live in a blue state.
Maybe that’s because red-state couples traditionally marry younger—and the younger the partners, the riskier the marriage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the states with the lowest median age at marriage are Utah, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.
That statistic is found in a Census Bureau report from 2009.
Now, granted, fewer Americans are getting married than ever before, and if Janice Shaw Crouse really wants to fight for strong marriages, she should focus on that — and she does, a bit — but outside of that, why is she upset that people are waiting longer to get married, and that those marriages are more successful on average? Back to her book:
The fact that they are deferring marriages does not mean those young people are not forming relationships and having sex. In fact, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, more than 93 percent of adults eighteen to twenty-three years old who are in a romantic relationship are having sex; even among those active in conservative churches, it is almost 80 percent.
Ah. People are having sex without asking the religious right’s permission. Gotcha.
So people are having sex outside of marriage, deferring marriage longer down the road until they are more prepared for the commitment, and as a result, their marriages are more successful and last longer. Moreover, gay and lesbian couples are participating in the institution in quite a few states these days, being granted the same rights and responsibilities that straight couples always have. So, why is this all a problem?
If it doesn’t fit into their worldview, it must not exist. The religious right hive mind cannot wrap its head around the fact that 30 year-old liberals in Massachusetts who enjoy sex well before marriage will have a better shot after walking down the aisle than young conservative Christians in Alabama. And gays and lesbians? Fingers in ears, tongues out, *pbhbhhbhbhbhbhbhhbtttttttt!*.
As Crouse wraps up her intro, she bemoans the current state of marriage, explaining that Americans are now more violent (not true) because the family has completely fallen apart. Her evidence? Some people went crazy at McDonald’s this one time:
[I]t means a culture where kids run wild and look for opportunities to vent their emotions in violence — as happened in April 2011, in another of a long series of shocking public instances of violence and trashing in fast-food restaurants, when a teenage girl in a McDonald’s restaurant thought another girl was “looking at her man.” She and a friend brutally attacked and savagely beat the girl until she went into convulsions.
The McDonald’s assault is not an isolated incident; the phenomenon has its own name — restaurant rage. In a Maryland suburb on March 18, 2011, a restaurant manager suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung after a patron at Outriggers objected to his high bill and attacked the manager. In Florida, a man dining at Olive Garden became so irritated by the noise of an autistic four-year-old at the next table that he choked the boy’s father.
These are visible results of societal turmoil and the far-reaching impact of family breakdown as people’s rage and lack of self-control erupts in ways that threaten others going about their everyday business.
Well that’s ghastly, Janice, and those people sound pretty awful, but I’m not sure they actually prove your thesis. But assuming they do, I’m sure that you and I could have a discussion about the economic effects of poverty on families, the breakdown thereof, the children of those families and how they’re affected by such conditions, and how to work for more education and economic opportunity in the United States, how to ensure that the poorest among us not only have access to food and shelter but also to opportunities to move up the rungs and fufill the American dream, but…
Oh, you don’t want to do that. You’d rather talk about how sex before marriage and the existence of gays and lesbians ruins everything.
This is why we can’t have nice talks with the religious right.
In the coming days we’ll dive deeper into the book, looking at Crouse’s beliefs about what makes strong marriages (some of them are good! This is why I say she sort of kind of almost means well, in a weird way), her thoughts on just how amazing married sex is and can be (and why all other sex is terrible), why marriage is the best for individuals, kids and society at large, and finally, why all of this comes with a giant asterisk that says, “unless you are two dudes or two women! In that case, scratch everything I just said!”
Check back Thursday for the next installment in our book report!